I bought this issue of SUPERMAN FAMILY at a supermarket of all places–a clear sign of the aggressiveness with which new DC publisher Jeanette Kahn was pushing her new initiative. Having come to the conclusion that one of the things that was causing the comic book business such ills was that the books weren’t as profitable for mainstream retailers as “real magazines”, Kahn initiated the Dollar Comics program: four titles would be converted into 80-page all-new releases priced at a dollar rather than thirty cents. This would generate better profit-per-unit for retailers and perhaps get the product into more outlets.
SUPERMAN FAMILY was the first of these books that I encountered–the others to make the shift to the Dollar Comic format at this time were WORLD’S FINEST, G.I. COMBAT and HOUSE OF MYSTERY–so two super hero titles, a war book and a weird mystery title, covering multiple genres to see what stuck. All of the books were anthologies, which helped with generating this much material on a monthly basis but which also made them all, in essence, less-than-essential buys. You could read SUPERMAN or BATMAN just fine if you avoided the Dollar Comics, for instance. I’m sure some of the thinking going into these choices involved not wanting to monkey around with the company’s true money-makers by converting them to an unproven format.
The Dollar Comics initiative lasted for a little over five years, though in that time, as you’d expect, the size of the books dwindled a bit, and the initial ads-free approach was eventually dropped. I don’t know that it had much of an impact one way or the other–certainly, none of the initial Dollar Comics titles was cancelled, at least not for that reason. But once they stopped being new, I don’t know that they opened up as many doors as Kahn had been hoping. Still, it was a worthy experiment.
If I had to pick one word to describe this inaugural edition of the Dollar Comics SUPERMAN FAMILY, it would be “nice”. All of the stories in it are competently done by seasoned professionals, they’re all well-constructed yarns. But none of them are particularly exciting or engaging or memorable–and, in fact, I didn’t remember a one of them until I cracked this book open again to write up this piece. They all represented five minutes of disposable entertainment, to be read and discarded without another thought.
There were seven stories in total in this issue, covering the length and breadth of the Superman line of characters, but focusing on the three series–JIMMY OLSEN, LOIS LANE and SUPERGIRL–which had been the backbone of SUPERMAN FAMILY for it’s run up to this point. In the opening Jimmy Olsen tale, the red-headed “Mr. Action” investigates shady goings-on in the world of Ice Hockey, with some assistance from the Man of Steel. The Superbaby tale that follows it up is about the infant from Krypton adopting an alien pet, who turns out to be a stranded alien pilot.
The third piece is a Lois Lane story that’s very similar to the Jimmy Olsen opener, except that Lois is investigating the world of professional wrestling. Superman is largely absent in this one, but he does appear for a panel or so at the end to wrap everything up. The next story is probably the one that took the greatest attempt to have substance, aided by the always-interesting artwork of a young Marshall Rogers. It’s a Fabulous World of Krypton outing that details that planet’s equivalent of the Christmas holiday, a celebration of the pacifist Jo-Mon whose death by violence brought about Krypton’s first lasting peace. It’s an obvious allegory, but it’s presented with sincerity and heart.
Next came a full-length Supergirl story nicely illustrated by Mike Vosburg, in which the Maid of Might engages in a rare battle with her cousin’s arch-enemy Lex Luthor. Luthor is after a sample of Kryptonite which rests on the surface of Mars–this was during that time period where all of the Kryptonite on Earth had been transmuted into lead, so the stuff was a bit more rare. And it’s a fake anyway, a ruse by Supergirl to draw out Luthor. That’s followed up with a light Krypto story in which the flying canine first emasculates and then restores the confidence of a protective junkyard hound. Truly these were life-and-death stakes.
The book closes on another Jimmy Olsen story, in which the reporter is gifted with telepathy by an imperiled mentalist and has to come to his aid. Once again, it’s Superman who does most of the heavy lifting here. So it was a nice, think package, of the sort that always appealed to me as a kid. And yet, I found it unfulfilling–there wasn’t anything in the issue that I found especially memorable, which was almost never the case in a comic book this large. So it would be a while before I sampled another issue of SUPERMAN FAMILY.